Rules on movement of GMOs: Commissioner Wallström addresses Parliament on proposed amendments

June 5, 2003

Strasbourg, 4 June 2003

Verbatim report of proceedings, 3 June 2003, Part 2

Wallström, Commission. Mr President, the proposal on the table today is linked to the recent ratification by the European Community of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The overall purpose, as we have heard already, of this United Nations agreement is to establish common rules to be followed in transboundary movements of GMOs in order to protect biodiversity and human health at world level.

The European Union has to fulfil its international obligations, which means transposing into our own legislation the provisions of the Biosafety Protocol. This is the objective of the proposal we are discussing today.

The Commission has already expressed its reservations on some political points of this procedure, particularly since the common position agreed in the first reading goes well beyond the provisions of the Biosafety Protocol on a substantial number of issues. Despite its reservations, the Commission is willing to cooperate on the basis of the package of compromise amendments we have on the table today, in order to increase the chances of reaching agreement at the second reading. Therefore, in a spirit of compromise, the Commission will not oppose the package. However, the Commission still believes that it might have been better to adhere more closely to the provisions of the protocol in order not to impose an excessive burden on Community exporters.

Nevertheless, the Commission considers that it is important to progress swiftly in order to have the implementing legislation adopted before the protocol enters into force. This will be soon, as Mr Sjöstedt said, since 49 countries have already ratified it and the deposit of 50 instruments of ratification is required for its entry into force.

I would like to stress that the European Union has been a key player in these international negotiations from the very beginning. I remember this vividly since that is what I had to start with as a new Commissioner. We need to send a clear signal that we intend to honour our commitments and be in a position to fully implement the protocol as soon as it enters into force, which should now be a matter of months.

The Commission is in a position to support the package of amendments submitted for the approval of the Parliament as part of a compromise. The package consists of Amendments 19-26. Let me just comment briefly on some of the amendments from the package to illustrate the Commission's position.

Amendment 19 does recognise the need to respect the party or non-party of imports that can be regulated by your safety framework, consistent with the protocol. This is in line with the position taken on numerous occasions by the Commission in international forums, which is to respect the right of countries to a free informed choice with regard to GMOs. So the Commission can accept Amendment 19.

It can accept Amendments 24-26 on improved public access to information regarding transboundary movements of GMOs, which is in line with the general framework of public access to environmental information and with Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment.

Amendments 21 and 22 impose an obligation to wait for prior written consent before proceeding with the export of GMOs.

The Commission believes that this goes beyond the Biosafety Protocol and is also the only amendment in the package about which the Commission had some serious reservations. However, as part of the overall compromise, the Commission can agree to both amendments.

By way of conclusion, I would like to say that Parliament has worked in a swift and transparent manner in close cooperation with the Commission and the Council. Once again, therefore, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Sjöstedt, for his efforts.

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